Using a car at Disney World

(Article last updated March 26, 2017)

Even though Disney makes it easy for you to leave the driving to them, many people still prefer to use a car at Disney World. In fact, it's been reported that 70% of people visiting drive - that's a lot of cars!

If you plan on driving (or are thinking about driving) on your next Disney World vacation, we have some tips and suggestions to make it easy.

Let's get started...

Renting a car at Disney World

If you are flying into Orlando and you plan on driving, you will likely be renting a car. Most people choose to rent a car at the airport; however, if you are only planning to use a car for part of your trip, Disney offers several on-site options for rentals. 

rentalcarmap

Tip: Daily prices tend to go down once you rent for a week, so even if you only need a car for a few days of your trip, be sure to compare prices to see what it would cost for a few days vs. a full week.

Orlando has some of the best car rental prices anywhere. It isn’t hard to get a good deal; it just takes a little work.

When renting a car, the best advice is to book a fully refundable fare when the cost fits your budget, and then check back frequently to see if the prices drop. As long as your fare is refundable, you can cancel and re-book as many times as you’d like making it easy to snag the best price possible.

When looking for valid discount codes, the best place to go is MouseSavers. They always seem to have the best Orlando-specific codes for all the major rental car companies. You can find the list of current codes on their rental car discount code page

Tip: There have been recent reports of price gouging at some of the gas stations closest to the airport. When refilling your tank before your return flight home, it is suggested that you use an app like GasBuddy or Gas Guru to find the best price on your route to the airport, just make sure that if you have to exit a tollway you have enough change for your tolls.

Toll roads

Florida is full of toll roads. Many of the direct routes to Walt Disney World require you to pay a small fee. 

Toll Booth

Unless you have your own SunPass transponder, you will want to be prepared with change to pay your tolls. Toll booths may be unmanned, so having exact change (a baggie full of $8-$10 dollars worth of quarters would be sufficient for the drive to and from the airport) is absolutely necessary.

Most of the rental car agencies offer a “deal” in which they will let you use their SunPass transponder for a daily fee. Be wary of this! You are charged the daily fee every day of your rental in addition to the cost of the tolls.

The fees vary from $3.95 per day all the way up to $10.49 per day. Considering the cost of the tolls is around $3.00 to $4.00 each way, you can see that their “deal” could wind up being a huge expense for you.

To compare the fees that each agency charges you can visit the SunPass website

Best routes from Orlando International Airport (MCO)

If you are driving from home to Walt Disney World, you have probably already mapped out your route. For those flying into Orlando, you may not have thought much about getting from the airport to the Walt Disney World Resort, which is roughly 30 minutes away.

There are 2 main ways to get from MCO to Walt Disney World. There are other routes that may have you avoiding toll roads, but these roads will also be more congested and more likely to have construction issues.

If you are first-time driver (or an infrequent driver) in Orlando, I recommend you stick with the toll roads. It is well worth the few dollars to avoid the traffic.

  • Option 1: SR 528 (Beachline - or B-Line - Expressway)
    • Pro: Cheaper; you'll pay less in tolls
    • Con: Often more congested and you have to connect to I-4
  • Option 2: SR 417 (Central Florida Greeneway)
    • Pro: Less traffic; you'll avoid the I-4 congestion
    • Con: More expensive; you'll pay slightly more in tolls

WDW-Routes-01

Navigating by car at Disney World

Disney is an expert at wayfinding signs. Seriously. Even people that get lost going to their local grocery store should have no problem navigating Walt Disney World. Major directional signs are bright purple, which makes them easy to recognize. 

Resort signage2As you approach Walt Disney World, the signs for the resort hotels will start off more general, again in purple, with hotels grouped by areas such as “Epcot Resort Area”, “Magic Kingdom Resort Area”, "Animal Kingdom Resort Area", etc.

As you get closer to your destination you will begin to see specific signs for your resort, which will be blue.

To make it easier to get where you are going, make sure to know within which area your resort is located. This is especially true if you are planning to visit another resort hotel for a meal, etc.

Did you know that there is more than 1 of the big "Welcome to Walt Disney World" gateway signs?

All of the main entrances to Walt Disney World have the giant signs, so don't get confused (and argue with your spouse that you are going in circles) if you feel like you keep going through them; you've probably just made a loop and are going back into or out of the Walt Disney World Resort on a different road.

WDW-Gateway-Signs-01

It is important to note that stopping to photograph the signs is not allowed, so if you want a picture make sure to have your phone or camera out and ready. 

Tip: Use burst mode on your phone to snap a rapid series of pictures so you will have several to choose from.

The signs for the 4 main parks, 2 water parks and Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) are very self-explanatory and plentiful. You can’t miss them! 

Overhead sign

There are usually multiple ways to get to and from different locations. If you miss a turn or an exit, don’t panic; just keep following the signs. MapQuest (or a similar app) works well on Disney Property, so don’t hesitate to use an app like that if you need it.

Parking

If you are staying on-property, parking at both your resort and the parks is free. With the introduction of MagicBands, Disney has been transitioning to a paperless parking pass system. So, if you are used to receiving a paper parking pass that you displayed in your car on previous trips, don’t be surprised if you don’t now. Instead, you may be required to scan your MagicBands. Be prepared to have those ready at both your resort and the parks.

  • Parking Costs
    • 4 main parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios)
      • Free for Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests
      • Offsite guests $20/day
      • Passholders - Free with Passholder card and photo ID
      • Preferred Parking - $40/day
    • Resorts
      • Free if you are staying at that resort
      • If you are visiting for dining reservations or to tour, etc., you can park up to 3 hours for free
      • Valet $25/day
    • Water Parks & Disney Springs
      • Free for self-parking
      • Valet parking for $25/day is available at Disney Springs

Parking at all 4 parks is self-explanatory and there are tons of Cast Members working in the parking lots to help you find your way. Driving and parking at Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is usually just as fast if not faster than using Disney bus transportation. With these 3 parks you park your car in lots directly outside of the gates.

For parking at the Magic Kingdom, however, it is usually faster to take Disney transportation because the parking lot for that park is actually about a mile away at the Transportation and Ticket Center. In order to get to the Magic Kingdom from there, you have to take either the monorail or a ferry. 

However, if you utilize Disney bus transportation to get to the Magic Kingdom, you are dropped off right outside the gates - no monorail or ferry needed. The other Disney transportation options (boat & monorail) from applicable resorts are also usually faster than driving. 

YetiAll parking lots are well labeled with cute, thematically appropriate names to help you remember where you parked. 

Tip: Make sure to take a picture of your parking space each time you park! This makes finding your car at the end of a long day much easier. 

If you park too far away to walk to the front gates, all parking lots have trams that run a very regular schedule (5-10 minutes apart). As with the buses, you will have to fold your stroller before boarding the tram, so keep that in mind as you unload your car. It might be easier to fully unpack/prepare your stroller for the day after you exit the tram at the park gate. 

At the end of the evening, lines will form for the trams similar to those for the buses. However, the tram lines move very fast and it shouldn't take you too long before you are being dropped off near the end of the aisle where you parked.

If you are leaving at park closing (along with thousands of other people), don't be surprised at how quickly and efficiently the parking lots empty. If you've ever attended a large sporting event or concert where there are thousands of people all trying to leave at once, you may have experienced long lines of cars with nobody moving, people getting angry and general chaos. Not so in the Disney parking lots.

You'll be happy to find things to be amazingly easy and simple when leaving. No non-moving bumper to bumper lines of cars or chaos to be found. Like other areas on Disney property, the exit signs are well labeled and it's as easy to find your way out as it is to find your way into the lot.

**************************************

If you have been thinking about driving but were worried it would be too confusing - don't. Like many other things Disney does, they did wayfinding right and they made navigating the Walt Disney Resort simple enough that even the most directionally challenged could do it.

If you aren't sure that driving is for you and you'd like to check out what Disney has to offer for transportation, you can read about that in this article on navigating using Disney World transportation.

Have you tried using a car at Disney World before? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Ready for a trip quote?

The handpicked team of agents at Prep School Travel can help you out. Fill out the info below to get started.

Leave a Reply

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Jason

On a recent trip to Orlando, we discovered you can save a lot of time by being enrolled in the rental car company loyalty programs. When we arrived at the Budget area, there was an extremely long line, and very few agents working at the counter. But we happened to notice a sign directing FastBreak members directly to the garage. I had signed up for the program just a few days prior so we followed the signs and were in our car less than 5 minutes later.

Clint Pressley

We have taken 3 Disney vacations with our boys, and tried money saving methods (flying into Sanford the first time, and renting a car and staying off-site last year), which always seem to backfire. My advice is to just book everything through Disney, stay on site, take the Disney shuttle from the Orlando airport, enjoy the Disney transportation, and relax! You’re going to spend money no matter what, so enjoy your vacation and don’t add unnecessary stress.

If you must rent a car, do NOT rent from Sixt Rent A Car. We rented a van for a family Disney vacation and returned it undamaged on 6-24-16. Upon return, a Sixt employee inspected the vehicle thoroughly, and said, in effect, that the car was OK, and we were good to go. There are four adult witnesses in our party who will attest to that. In addition, Sixt emailed us a return receipt on 6-26-16, with no mention of any damage.

18 days after the return on 7-12-16, we recieved an email from Sixt accusing us of damaging the vehicle. I refuted their claim, and asked for photos. They sent blurry photos taken in the dark, of which the date taken properties had been removed from the photo files.

157 days after the return on 11-29-16, we received an email from Alternative Claims Management asking for $1680.99 for damages. I again refuted their claim that any damage to the vehicle occurred while it was in our care. I received another email on 3-15-17 asking for $1207.68. It included some new photos taken in the daylight, which looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to the vehicle. It was obvious damage to the hood, which would have immediately been noticed upon the vehicle’s return.

Renting from Sixt was the worst travel decision we’ve ever made. If you’re renting in Orlando, choose a major company who is set up at the airport, and avoid waiting around for a shuttle to hell.

Marie-Luise

Hi and thank you for this great article! Answered every remaining question that I had so far in terms of driving around DW. However it raised a new probalby odd question. Coming from Europe I won’t have any possibility to get my hands on coins since the bank is only changing as low as 1$ bills. So now I am kind of worried to be stucked on a toll road. What are you supposed to do when you come to an unmanned booth with only bills?
Thanks everyone for trying to help a lost European here 😉
And I wish you all a magical time during your next WDW vacation

Dorothy Z.

Why is parking not good at MK? I’m driving down with my mom who uses a seat walker(she has a handicap sticker) and we’re staying off site. What is the best thing to do?

Jessica

Thank you, so helpful! I have a question about parking at a resort for dining reservation (we will not be staying at resort). In the post you wrote, “If you are visiting for dining reservations or to tour, etc., you can park up to 3 hours for free”
How do you get that parking pass? Book it ahead of time, day of?
Also, can anyone take the monorail even if not staying on property or going to the parks that day, (just using it for transportation for dining)?

You don’t need to get a parking pass. Just tell the guard you have a dining reservation when you arrive at the resort. They will likely check your name on the list and then you’ll park. The 3 hour timeframe is Disney’s recommendation but not usually enforced strictly.

Anybody can use Disney transportation, even people who aren’t staying onsite.

Brandi Wilson

We are going in December and renting a van for the trip down from NC. We will be staying at Shades of Green, if we decided to drive to the parks would we have to pay at each park or can you just pay 20$ for the whole day?

Rebecca

Hi Brandi, my husband and I drive from Savannah several times a year and stay at Shades of Green. It is great! They have buses to all the parks and, if you are comfortable with a 15-minute walk, you can walk from Shades to the Polynesian and use the monorail from there. Just thought I’d chime in and let you know it is SO convenient!

Megan

You pay $20 for the whole day, e.g. if you pay for parking at Hollywood Studios in the morning, then go to Animal Kingdom at night, the parking receipt from Hollywood Studios would be valid at Animal Kingdom. I hope this helps 🙂

This has the full Disney parking policy: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/parking/

Paul

We always used the bus transportation and stayed at a Disney Resort. On our most recent trip we stayed off property due to having extra people with us. We ended up staying at the Carib Royal hotel and suites, what a great place. I might just stay off property from now on, my suite was alot less than Disney property and was 1200 sq ft and free parking. Anyway we used the bus service and the first day was a disaster, over an hour each trip. So for the first time we decided to drive and made it in no more than 10 minutes each time, easy peasy. The morning was a slight traffic wait but Ill will be using a car from now on. Being a disabled vet and getting to park in the handicap area is a Godsend, it is right up at the main gate no matter what park you go to it is close. Disney makes navigation easy with their signs just make sure you have the area listed in some form by either a map or listed by area on paper. I have noticed that a GPS/Nav sends you in weird places. I bet I hit no less than 6 toll roads because I drove down from Indiana. The last one I blew through a Sun Pass exit and about 3 weeks later got a bill for $3. I think someone should come out with a local map with roads and suggestions to certain points like Wal-Mart ect for those that are staying at local hotels or guests that want to explore outside of Disney.

Dorothy Z.

Hi Paul! You mentioned being able to park in handicap being a disabled vet, thank you for your service! Can you please tell me about the handicap parking at a magic Kingdom? I’m taking my mom down in June and she is also handicap and utilizes a seat walker. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

Holly B.

Hello. I’m new to your site. We are traveling to Disney in October with myself (34), my husband (33) and our two kids (8 and 2). I have recently been diagnosed with pretty severe arthritis in my hip. I am planning to try my best to get myself prepared (lose weight, get used to walking more, etc) to try to avoid an ECV. That being said, I’d still like to reduce “extra” walking if possible. As for the amount of walking, are you still better off to drive to the parks except MK?

Thank you!!!!

Tammy Sarault

Just a quick question about the Sun Pass. I just received our transponder and I’m wondering if the rental car already has one, will it charge that one or mine? How can I make sure the toll doesn’t go on the rental car’s transponder? I wouldn’t want to have a surprise with the bill.
Thank you so much for all your amazing work on this website, sooooo helpful!

You can call Sun Pass after getting the rental car to give them the car info and they will able to prioritize your transponder over the one in the car. This is from https://www.sunpass.com/rentalcar

Tammy Sarault

Thank you!! 🙂

Kelly

Do you think it’s possible if we drive our car for my husband to drop me and the kids off at the gate and THEN go park the car and meet us back at the gate?

Heather

No, you can’t do this. Only trams & buses are allowed close to the main gates, which is even more true at MK where public traffic is confined to the other side of the lagoon.

One late night we were leaving a park and got confused by the cone configuration in the area. We ended up in the tram lane, and quickly got pulled over by an Orange County Trooper who admonished us with threats of big fines, etc. After explaining, he was very cordial and helped us out of the area.

Tina Napoli

Hi- I recently returned from a family trip to Disney World, and although my family has been there before this was the first trip where we rented a car and we loved it! It will definitely be something that we budget for on our next trip too as it worked out so well for getting us to the parks bright and early, park hoping and dinning reservations at some of the other resorts. Because we were traveling with a group of six we decided to still take the Magical Express to our resort, Art of Animation. That way we didn’t have to worry about moving through the airport with 10+ baggage’s and two young children. I had found an amazing price for a mini van at a local yet off site car rental company called Nu car rental. They had a desk located in a hotel that was 5 min off Disney property. They picked us up at AoA to pick up the car and the whole process took less than 20 min. It worked out great with the location of our resort room as well. We stayed in bldg 1 in the cars section and our room was right next to the back stair well exit door. So we basically walked right out of our room and into the parking lot. We love Disney but hate waiting on lines so renting a car was definitely the right choice for us!

Jodi Strock

I always rent a car. I like to be in charge and have the pure convenience of going where I want to when. I feel like there is a lot of wasted time waiting on Disney transportation. It depends on what time we land if we take I-4 & avoid the toll road but I always have change with me for toll roads. Also, I normally fly into Sanford because it’s a short drive from home to the airport & a 2 hour flight. Don’t forget to include driving to/from Sanford too! 🙂

John

I’ll always drive to every park except M.K. For all the other parks, my driving time beats the bus significantly. However, last Feb. I thought I had left plenty of time to make it from All Star Sports to M.K. for a fastpass return time at Seven Dwarfs. Just missed a bus, had to wait 15 minutes, and then also stopped at Music. Still made the return time with 10 minutes to spare.

As for gas prices, there always seems to be a station price gouging on 535, between I-4 and Hotel Plaza Blvd. I saw a $5.99 price on gasbuddy today in that area, when most are around $2. I also notice that the stations on Disney property have switched to Speedway. I was always used to seeing Hess. When did this take place?

Elise

Shannon, I’m such a nerd. Just looking at your shots of the road signs for Disney gives me goose bumps! 🙂 ha!

Elise

So sorry, Heather! Just noticed YOU wrote this one!

Sarah

I loved driving to/from the Disney parks! We stayed nearby (Windsor Hills) and found it incredibly easy to get to whichever park we were visiting that day. We rarely waited long for trams, even on busier days.
One important point not mentioned: you don’t pay twice for parking, if you have park hopper and visit another park later that day. Make sure to keep your receipt though!!

Betsy S

I disagree with not choosing to drive to Magic Kingdom. We just returned from our first trip in October. I had read that tip over and over again, and my children wanted to take the bus because they thought it would be fun. We live in a very rural area 🙂 We stayed at CBR, and we found it to actually be much longer, and just as much walking as driving there. Our bus pick up location was the 2nd farthest away (we arrived before rope drop everyday and had great parking locations at all the parks, so great that the trams didn’t even stop for them). We also had to stand on the bus both directions. We visited MK 3 different days. Drove the first, bus the second, and drove the 3rd. After this trip, and that 1 experience, I have decided I will always have a car at WDW. I was worried about navigating the World before getting there, but the signs are great. One negative though, was that my Iphone GPS kept directing me into the service entrance at CBR. After a few days of using it, I decided that really, there was no need for it. The signage was fantastic for finding our way around.

Julie Buchanan

This post is fantastic information. We will have our car, but we’ll probably use Disney buses most of the time there. The exception is our Epcot day when we’ll want to be there at rope drop but be in the park for Illuminations as well. Thinking about driving in the morning, grabbing lunch when World Showcase opens at 11, then driving back to AoA for the afternoon to rest. Then we’ll take bus back for dinner and fun in the WS until the Park closes. Is this a reasonable plan?

wpDiscuz
Animal Kingdom Epcot Hollywood Studios Magic Kingdom Water Parks
Guide to Festival of the Arts at Epcot
Complete guide to Epcot
All about the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party at Epcot
Planning Process Overview Step 1: Pick a Date Step 2: Lodging Step 3: Make a Daily Plan Step 4: Dining Step 5: Park Touring Step 6: Extra Magic
Starbucks at Disney World – here’s everything you need to know
The pros and cons of every Disney World resort
Best Disney World restaurants to share meals
Babies and Toddlers Characters General Reference Group Travel Luxury Saving Money Special Needs Technology Transportation
Best Disney World restaurants to share meals
How to rent DVC points (deluxe hotel for moderate prices!)
Disney Springs restaurants and dining